Carbonite CEO Apologizes for Planted Amazon Reviews, But Bristles at Critics

1/29/09Follow @wroush

Boston-based Carbonite, whose online backup service is the main competitor for Decho’s Mozy, has gotten some good publicity over the last few months for its tongue-in-cheek promotions on Jimmy Kimmel Live and other TV and radio programs. But the company is taking a public relations hit this week over a recently uncovered case of reviews planted on Amazon by Carbonite employees who didn’t identify themselves as such. The reviews were published three years ago—and it’s just one of many cases of people trying to game Amazon’s customer reviews—but they’ve attracted widespread publicity this week thanks to a blogger whose criticisms of Carbonite were highlighted Tuesday by New York Times technology reporter and columnist David Pogue.

I called Carbonite CEO David Friend yesterday to get his company’s side of the story. He didn’t try to spin or shift blame for the episode: He says it was “totally wrong” for Carbonite staffers Swami Kumaresan and Jonathan Freidin to post positive reviews of Carbonite’s service on Amazon without making it clear that they were Carbonite employees.

Carbonite CEO David Friend“We apologize for it,” says Friend, who also wrote to Pogue after Tuesday’s post, apologizing to Amazon visitors who may have been misled by the reviews. “We pulled the things down the day we found out about them,” he says.

The Amazon case was an isolated incident, Friend says. “Some people are alleging that this is a pattern of behavior,” Friend says. “It isn’t. It was just one thing that happened back when Carbonite had eight employees and there were a bunch of young guys who didn’t know any better…This was just two overenthusiastic employees who decided to post these things on their own. To be honest they thought it was cool.”

Since January of 2007, he says, Carbonite has had a policy requiring anyone affiliated with the company to disclose that relationship whenever they contribute to blogs or review sites. He says there will be no disciplinary action against Kumaresan or Freidin, since they published the reviews before the policy was put in place. “I’m not going to punish somebody for something they did three years ago,” he says. “Everyone has been well aware of the policy since it was put in place. Had anyone violated the policy since 2007, they would have been in trouble, but there have been no infractions since then.”

But while Friend is apologetic, he’s also a bit miffed about Carbonite’s treatment in the blogosphere over the past couple of days.

The controversy got rolling on Sunday when a blogger and former Carbonite customer using the pseudonym “Bruce Goldensteinberg” published a long post describing his frustrations obtaining technical support from the company. Goldensteinberg wrote that in early 2008, after experiencing a computer crash and then running into problems restoring his data from Carbonite’s backup version, he spent “literally hours on the phone” with customer service representatives and a member of Carbonite’s sales department. (He had opted not to pay Carbonite’s $19.95 fee for priority support—i.e., immediate access to telephone representatives.) Eventually, he was able to restore some of his data, and “after much complaining” he was offered a refund worth a year’s subscription, which he accepted.

In a search later to see whether other people had experienced similar frustrations, Goldensteinberg writes, he found the Amazon reviews by Kumaresan and Freidin. He became suspicious about the sources of the reviews, and discovered through more searches that both men work at Carbonite. The remainder of his post details his detective work and criticizes Carbonite’s actions as “dishonorable,” “unscrupulous,” and “brazen.”

Quite apart from the matter of the Amazon reviews—the impropriety of which Friend does not dispute—I wanted to know whether Friend thought Goldensteinberg had a legitimate beef with Carbonite’s custom service department.

He did not think so. “It says right on our website that we do not provide free telephone support,” Friend says. “If you want to talk to Carbonite for free, you can use text chat or e-mail. This guy called up and was told that the premium telephone service is $20—which is a lot cheaper than [telephone service at] Dell or Microsoft.” The conversation between Goldensteinberg and Carbonite’s representatives became heated, Friend says. “We finally ended up giving him an hour of help. And there was nothing wrong with Carbonite—all of the things were his issues. He has just never gotten over that.”

I e-mailed Goldensteinberg Wednesday afternoon asking for a response to Friend’s comment. Goldensteinberg wrote back: “Was the customer service experience with Carbonite great? Not at all. It was terrible. But I wouldn’t have gone to David Pogue, and he surely wouldn’t have written about this issue if the only thing I had to write about was bad customer service. Honestly, I only included the part in my review about the lousy customer service as a background to how I discovered the fake reviews on Amazon. Any attempt to divert attention from the main issue here…is a red herring.”

Indeed, the whole matter might have ended with Goldensteinberg’s post, if the blogger hadn’t contacted Pogue. The famed columnist wrote in his own blog “Pogue’s Posts” on Tuesday that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Noah

    Further evidence that millions of dollars in venture capital spent on advertising can’t buy you a quality product. I’ve never met a fan of Carbonite, only heard their praises sung by paid spokespeople.

  • http://sumobackup.com Sumo Backup

    Meh… The only people who are really victimized were the ones that expect something got nothing.

    Deep down, consumers realize that you get what you pay for.

  • Pingback: Online backup is the Trojan Horse of the cloud « Yet Another VC Blog

  • Jim D

    Carbonite could be possibly the worse backup software out there.

  • zydone

    Now go ahead and add their Reseller plan , is just driving liability of their hands and putting the problem to small companies , small techs , requiring to have them pay for the ” Codes ” and collect from this people customers what a great way of skipping liability.

  • Paul

    I like carbonite a lot. Very user friendly. I installed it on my mom’s and mother-in-laws computers. Great for backing up their digital photos, otherwise i’d be driving to their houses to do it on disks.

  • Mike Rashotte

    We have used Carbonite since 2006. It has been a good and convenient product for us. Today we stopped using Carbonite. Why? We recently read in a Washington Post media column that “our” backup company is one of the remaining advertisers on Glenn Beck. Carbonite’s main office confirmed by e-mail that Beck is one of their media buys. They would not reveal to us (company policy) who else they support in this way, except to say that they have “diverse” media buys for their products. A Google check indicated that Rush Limbaugh is another main beneficiary of Carbonite’s media buys, and that he actually does the promos himself. Rush, and Glenn, and who-knows what other divisive media agitators are supported by this company? We just couldn’t continue as customers of a company willing to support such destructive influences in our country. Carbonite refunded our current subscriptions today without fuss. We appreciate that. Current and prospective purchasers of Carbonite might factor in their corporate mindset if that is the sort of thing that concerns you.

  • James

    In response to Mike Rashotte’s reason for leaving Carbonite: Don’t worry Carbonite, I’ll subscribe and make up for losing Mr. Rashotte’s business…and for exactly the same reasons he left. Limbaugh and Beck are raido hosts, who, last time I checked hadn’t run our deficit up trillions of dollars and ovetaken 1/6 of the US economy for a healthcare plan that doesn’t even kick in until the guy that backed it is out of office. If I was Carbonite I wouldn’t want customers as uninformed and stupid enough to buy into the President’s lies, both campaign and in office. Maybe Keith Olbermann is selling a back-up system.

  • Roy

    Ya might want to check out this link below before you decide on Carbonite. They have been caught stacking the deck on Amazon.com reviews by posting their own reviews without disclosing that they where Carbonite employees. Personally, I just flat out refuse to support companies with bad ethics….so I am going with Mozy.

    http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2009/01/29/carbonite-ceo-apologizes-for-planted-amazon-reviews-but-bristles-at-critics/

  • Paul Henry

    I use the Mac version of Carbonite, as do several of my family members. For what it’s worth (a lot, I think!), the hard drive on my my MacBook Pro crashed only a few months after I started my subscription, and after Apple replaced my hard drive, operating system and software, my Carbonite back-up restored my files very simply, and to the best of my knowledge, completely. The proof is in the pudding. To me, the fact that some young employees touted the product on Amazon three years ago, when they had very few users, does not strike me as all that important in the scheme of things, especially since a firm policy is now in place. What’s more important is that Carbonite works!

  • Carbonite Tutor

    I think Carbonite is a good toll to backup the files on your system, however the procedure and the rules for backing up the files with this software are really complected and sometimes a non-tech person might find it difficult to handle.
    I personally think that the software is very weak from the development end and it should have been worked with development team and should include some easy and good features that a simple use like will like.
    Customer Support is also good but product itself is not competitive.

    I would give following ratings to Carbonite
    1. Software use = 6
    2. Performance = 5
    3. Reliability = 5
    4. Customer Service = 7
    5. Price worth = 5

  • Steve

    I hope there are better backup services out there than Carbonite, which has been a nightmare to initially back up my computer. It’s been almost a month and it’s still not 50 percent completed (after several stops and starts and visits to support). When I requested an extension of my contract because of the lengthy delay, i was told to pound sand.

    Let’s just say I can see why they had to plant good reviews.

  • Chris

    Carbonite is great UNLESS you need it and Customer Support (haha) is an absolute nightmare. DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY.

  • Shannon

    I tried Carbonite through their free trial. While happy with their service I ultimately decided that it wasn’t something that I needed. I attempted to uninstall the program, however, it appears I am stuck with it forever! What I have found is THERE IS NO WAY TO UNINSTALL THE PROGRAM. I am plagued with pop-ups that tell me that my subscription has expired. DO NOT USE CARBONITE! I am extremely disappointed with this company.

  • sat

    Thanx for the heads up re Beck. Reason enough for me not to use them. Additionally, there is nothing cute, funny, innocent or cool about fraud or lying by faiing to disclose. These two grown men knew what they were doing and should have been fired. What else will they do to be cool?

  • carbinsider

    Got to say this behavior permeates this company. The nepotism amongst the board and executives has allowed unscrupulous behavior both in a professional and fiduciary duty sense. The general council is the niece of one of the board members. They grant each other loans and favors, probably all legal, but questionable if there decisions are in the best interest of their stockholders.